The media came under spotlight yesterday as the prosecution and defence teams tussled over leakage of sensitive documents relating to the case of former minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda and two others.
The blame-game followed an application by lawyers representing the second accused, Rashid Tayub, to ban the media from publishing documents of the case before they are formally submitted to court.
Chaponda, who is the first accused and Tayub—one of the directors at Transglobe Produce Export Limited—are answering criminal charges at the Blantyre Magistrate’s Court relating to the suspicious procurement of maize from Zambia.
In the application to ban the media, one of Tayub’s lawyers, Madalo Banda, said publication of the documents, particularly the witness statements, infringed on the independence of the witnesses which was not a matter to be taken lightly.
What ignited the issue were articles published in The Nation on September 11 and The Daily Times on September 7.
In its story, The Nation reported on a certificate of non-compliance the court issued against the State whereas The Daily Times published names of witnesses, among them two Cabinet ministers Goodall Gondwe (Finance, Economic Planning and Development) and Nicholas Dausi (Information and Communications Technology), and the statements obtained from the witnesses.
Banda said publication of witness statements was dangerous because they were not sworn testimonies as they had not come before the court.
He said: “We need our witnesses to be independent of outside influence, independent of each other and indeed any other influence therefore having the witnesses exposed to each other’s testimonies might either influence others not to testify or might influence other witnesses to change their testimony to be in accordance with the testimonies of other witnesses.”
The State, represented by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) legal team, said they were in agreement with the defence’s application to ban the media from further publishing the documents.
One of the State counsels, Macmillan Chakhala, said they were stunned to notice that every document they served the defence in relation to the case was finding its way to the media and accused their counterpart of harbouring evil plans.
However, his statement did not go down well with the lead defence counsel, Tamando Chokhotho, who denied leaking the documents and asked the State to stop pretending to be saints.
He said: “The State cannot claim they have not been talking to the press. Just yesterday [Wednesday], I received a call from a Zodiak [Broadcasting Station] reporter asking my reaction to the State’s intention to apply for an adjournment of the matter. How did they [Zodiak] know that?
“So, the fact that the documents have been leaked after being served on the defence does not necessarily mean they would not have been leaked by the State.”
Another defence lawyer, Jai Banda, said the State’s assertion that the defence wanted to create panic and chaos amongst witnesses was a fallacy because the accused also expressed concerns with the publication of the witnesses’ names and statements.
In his determination, Blantyre chief resident magistrate Simeon Mdeza cautioned the media to remain within “its territory and not go beyond” when reporting on court documents or risk being in contempt of court.
He said: “You can only report on documents that have been argued in court and not before that… As for who is responsible for the leakage, I don’t want to point fingers at anyone but be mindful of the consequences of such actions.”
The magistrate then adjourned the matter to January 8 2018 for the State to start parading its witnesses.
However, the State and defence pleaded with the court to give an earlier date, saying adjourning to next year would delay the matter as they were both willing to conclude it in good time.
The defence argued in case of Transglobe that its business has stalled and is badly affected because of the court case while Chaponda would also want to be vindicated in the case as quickly as possible.
Besides Chaponda and Tayub, the case also includes Grace
Mijiga-Mhango, a businesswoman and chairperson of the Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi (GTPA).
The matter has since been adjourned to November 14.